Review by Jamisyn Gleeson
Come, A Memoir is the debut memoir by Rita Therese, who introduces us to the intricacies of her life as a sex worker in Australia. Her story is interwoven with memorable and touching recounts of her attempts to cope with trauma as she navigates her body, the city and her newly independent life.
Easy to read, Come is split into three sections entitled ‘Sex’, ‘Love’ and ‘Death’. If I were to choose one word to describe the work in its entirety, it would be ‘honest.’ Therese sounds real in every sense of the word: she swears every few sentences, describes her body and the bodies of others with visceral imagery and is upfront about her own mistakes. Most significantly, she doesn’t write about the sex industry as something that is purely negative, but one that, like any job, can have positive and rewarding outcomes. Her experiences provide us with an important, humanising lens into an industry that is too often heavily demonised on a global scale.
Through her memoir, Therese examines her physical and emotional needs and introduces us to an industry that relies on connections and relationships. Though some readers – particularly those who have never worked in the sex industry – might not be able to relate to Therese’s experiences, they will be able to relate to her mindset and personality: she is strong-willed, confident and painfully misunderstood.
Indeed, Therese’s comically blunt tone is consistent throughout her memoir and is most powerful when she dives into the world of her work, which many readers know little about. Her detailed recounts of shooting a pornographic film for the first time (which involved having no idea what to do, falling from a swing while trying to masturbate and bringing the wrong clothing) makes Therese sound like somebody we would feel comfortable having a serious – albeit awkwardly hilarious – conversation with.
Her voice occasionally shifts to one that is matter-of-fact as she informs readers about working in the sex industry. She provides us with instructions about how to wash expensive lingerie, how to wash oneself after sex and how to convince oneself that one is not grieving – that despite their trauma, they are fine. Indeed, what makes Therese such a likeable and admirable narrator is that her voice can also be deeply personal and tender, particularly when she discusses the more serious, consequential parts of her work, such as the impact that negative sexual encounters and abusive relationships have had on her. Indeed, although Therese details the positives of the sex industry, she certainly doesn’t sugar-coat its shortcomings.
The memoir’s strongest, and simultaneously most harrowing, chapters focus on Therese’s pain as she questions whether a person can really heal from the traumas of their past. In these moments, Therese’s involvement in the sex industry acts as a backdrop to her personal life as she attempts to navigate the many obstacles that are thrown at her, such as the deaths of her family members, her experiences with sexual assault and her possession of a life that is ‘dictated by calories and counting and hunger.’
Come has been criticised for an apparent inability to unpack all of these traumas. Still, the sheer honesty of Therese’s personal reflections of her successes and failures, of her regrets and longings, actually provide readers with an opportunity to reconsider the patriarchal values that have been pushed upon them. It encourages readers to carefully consider their own relationships and to rethink the way they treat, talk to and talk about other women – particularly those who work in the sex industry. Come navigates our thinking to the philosophical, positioning us to question society’s deeply ingrained heteronormative and patriarchal values. It is an unmissable read and one that readers – especially young women who are interested in learning more about the sex industry – will no doubt gravitate towards.
Ultimately, Therese teaches us that even if there is no real resolution to pain, there is always a way to move forward – despite this being inconceivable at times. Come is a true Australian story that will haunt you but also make you belly laugh, impress you and demand from you, entertain you and stay with you.
Come, A Memoir was published by Allen & Unwin. C format paperback RRP AU$29.99; ebook RRP AU$23.99.
Jamisyn Gleeson is currently studying a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne and has been published in Voiceworks, Room Magazine and F*EMS Zine. When she’s not writing, she’s drinking her body weight in coffee.